Safety Corner: Sustainability and Indoor Air Quality
Safety Corner: Sustainability and Indoor Air Quality
Safety Corner: Sustainability and Indoor Air Quality
1 minute read

Indoor pollutants can be two to five times as high as outdoor levels, according the EPA. With most Americans spending 90 percent of their time indoors, this creates a level of occupational hazard that requires green building philosophy to solve.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor pollutants can be two to five times as high as outdoor levels — with most Americans spending an average of 90 percent of their time indoors.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets limits for many pollutants,” says Burns & McDonnell industrial hygienist Eric Wenger. “But some people can experience adverse effects on their health or productivity from airborne contaminants at levels far below the OSHA limits. And in some cases, such as molds or allergens, there are no federally regulated safe limits.”

Healthier Buildings

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) guidelines address air quality in non-industrial environments such as office buildings, where pollutant levels are likely to fall below OSHA limits.

Because sealing buildings to reduce heating and cooling costs can trap gases released from materials and furnishings, LEED® criteria suggest low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, adhesives and finishes. Guidelines also recommend monitoring carbon dioxide levels as a measure of effective ventilation with outside air and using high-efficiency filters to reduce particulates.

Balancing Priorities

While indoor air quality always has been part of LEED® standards, past environmental efforts have focused on increasing energy efficiency. Conversely, some of the measures that improve air quality can increase energy consumption.

But the U.S. Green Building Council reports that studies of workers in green buildings revealed another kind of payback — productivity gains of up to 16 percent.

“It’s a new concept to plan for air quality,” Wenger says. “As industrial hygienists, we can provide air testing as part of LEED® indoor air quality management plans or to investigate occupant complaints. The sampling can include measuring levels of VOCs, noise, molds, allergens and other contaminants of concern to help protect occupant health as well as improve comfort.”

For more information, contact Eric Wenger, 816-822-3894.

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